Update–and “Weight of the Nation” Discussion

Weight of the Nation


Life has been a little more than hectic, lately. On top of studying for the GRE, making half a dozen professional- and/or medical-related calls each day, organizing a 5K, and racing to work in the garden every couple of seconds the weather permits, I have also taken on a second job (necessarily). It’s going surprisingly well, I must say, and I haven’t managed to pull out (all of) my hair. But, waking up at 3:30 am each morning and then not getting to truly sit down and relax until well after 5:00 in the evening is a little exhausting at times. Obviously, any little task or chore that needs done has to be accomplished at supersonic speeds, now.

Having said this, I did (somehow) manage to watch 3 of the 4 parts of HBO’s documentary series The Weight of the Nation, and hoped it would make a good post/discussion. If you missed the documentaries, check out http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/ and feel free to come back and comment.

My notes on the films are a little out of order since I caught parts 3 and 4 on one day and 1 and 2 sometime later. But, one of the biggest statements they made which made me practically bow down to the television set because of how many times I’ve tried explaining it to men was that men experience weight bias at a much different level than women do. Men experience weight bias at a BMI of 35 (BMI 30+ = obese) while women begin experiencing weight bias at a BMI of 27 (the lower range of an overweight BMI reading).According to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, “The social consequences of obesity include discrimination in employment, barriers in education, biased attitudes from health care professionals, stereotypes in the media, and stigma in interpersonal relationships” (http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/what_we_do.aspx?id=10). I can’t even count the number of times I’ve mentioned to my husband that “it’s different for women” when it comes to appearances and especially weight (this is usually in defense of me being maddeningly picky about clothes shopping or just simply refusing to shop for clothes). As the statistics above from Weight of the Nation point out, men don’t truly begin to experience weight bias when they’re overweight, but once they’re OBESE. And as the ScienceDaily article title exclaims, “Weight Bias Is As Prevalent As Racial Discrimination…” (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080327172129.htm). This made it even more shocking to discover that (according to the documentary) there are no federal laws that prevent weight bias in the workplace or anywhere else. Yes, that boring statement on your employment application that nobody reads because they know it by heart may state that the company you’re applying to does not discriminate based on weight, but if they did…there are no laws protecting you from the consequences.

One particular quote from the show (and I feel horrible that I didn’t catch the young lady’s name) I found to be very striking and could relate to personally, “I think it’s really hard for girls because you have the image of what you’re supposed to look like, and if you don’t meet these standards, the media makes it seem like you can’t be happy.” When is the last time you saw a (serious) romantic movie or commercial portraying 2 beautiful but overweight individuals embracing each other with the same enthusiasm and raw passion as those expensive cologne commercials? Or better yet, when is the last time you saw a scene where a slender, healthy weight male was embracing an overweight female? Never. Why? Because it’s not “socially acceptable.” Weight bias is apparently socially acceptable…but it needs to stop. A person’s weight does not define them. Hearing adults say the following words made me feel sick to the stomach:

“I don’t feel invisible. I just feel like something that shouldn’t be there…”

“Society is telling you ‘You’re ugly. Nobody wants to be your friend’.”

I’ll admit (shamefully) to having more than once seen a morbidly obese individual and, completely forgetting that there is a person, another human being with emotions and a life of their own behind the image I’m initially focusing on, and becoming fixated on their weight. Why? Because it’s the message society has been sending us. Overweight and obese people are NOT spectacles that we have the right to stare and gawk at. They’re exactly like us, but perhaps wanting and needing that feeling of acceptance more than we need it.

However, having said all of this, I was also thrilled to see the documentaries point out just how dire weight gain can be. I believe it was either Dr. Leibel or Dr. Rosenbaum who gave the example of 2 individuals who are the same age, same height, same gender, and same weight. Consider that individual A obtained that weight by losing weight (putting them in a “weight-reduced state”), while individual B has naturally been comfortable at that weight for several years. Because of our bodies’ defense mechanisms developed at the beginning of time, individual A would actually require 20% fewer calories than individual B. Our bodies view weight loss as something negative and interpret it as starvation mode (stemming way back from when food was scarce in the hunter-gatherer days). Our metabolism then begins to slow in order to prevent us from withering away. It’s not that our bodies WANT us to remain overweight and prevent us from losing weight, but rather wish to protect us—making weight loss even more difficult. Should individual A begin eating the same amount of calories as individual B, they would begin to gain weight unless their physical activity level compensated for the increased calories.


This is why it is SO important to work hard now to maintain a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle, rather than work 2-3 times as hard later just to simply bring everything back down to an acceptable level.

I  hope you found this as interesting as I did and take time to watch the films. Please feel free to comment as well!


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